By Mark Burgess, author, The New Marketing: How to Win in the Digital Age
There’s an old story about two men having an earnest conversation about the future. One is nervous about what’s coming, while the other seems oddly unperturbed. When asked how he can be so calm, the unbothered man motions for his friend to pull a book down off the shelf called “Future Facts.”
The man cracks the book and is bewildered by what he sees. “All of the pages are blank!” he exclaims. “Exactly!” his friend says. “The future is an unwritten book, which means we have the privilege of writing our own!”
For businesses, that’s never truer than when circumstances dramatically alter the rules of engagement and leave the field wide open for innovation. COVID-19 is just that sort of game-changing event, leaving businesses worldwide the challenge of writing their own story of survival, forging undisruptable bonds with their customers in the process.
Today’s Marketing Requires a Whole New Model
Newly released movies debut in theaters first and then make their way through other distribution channels. That’s how it had always been done — until the pandemic broke basic assumptions about the movie business. Large theatrical screenings were no longer safe. Instead of throwing in the towel, distributors listened to their consumer’s needs and pivoted.
Wonder Woman 1984 was released by Warner Brothers into theaters and made available for streaming on HBO Max simultaneously. It was a bold move – one that radically alters distribution practices – with potentially lasting consequences. However, it allowed the studio to capitalize on its asset while staying focused on its customers’ health and safety.
When disruption strikes, it is not enough to tinker with existing approaches. A new model is required. In a rapidly changing marketplace, features and benefits are no longer adequate to differentiate one brand from another. In our book, The New Marketing, we talk about how increasingly, brands are shifting to a purpose-driven approach. This focuses on developing cohesive corporate values and taking a stand that consumers can connect with.
There’s an emphasis on building trust first and selling benefits second. Brands that can exhibit humility, champion their values, and show empathy will win. Disruption handled properly offers the opportunity for a paradigm shift that prevents future disruption.
Brand Purpose in Action
Brand differentiation once depended almost entirely on product features, quality, price and value, reputation, and customer service. These are still important, of course, but savvy marketers are realizing that the most important element of any brand relationship is trust, which, ironically, is the hardest to build. It takes a long time and considerable effort to cultivate brand trust, and one bad PR moment can torpedo hard-fought gains.
To gain momentum in the process and make it more resilient to circumstances, brands are leveraging purpose. They’re announcing their values and translating them into action, actions that align with their audience’s beliefs. This forges an undisruptable bond between the company and its customers. They become brothers and sisters in arms, working together to solve important issues. This ideological entanglement is a connection that’s difficult to break.
So how does it work in practice? Vision giant Warby Parker donates eyeglasses to those in need. TOMS Shoes does the same, donating a pair every time consumers make a purchase. Patagonia offers their factory workers fair salaries, generous health benefits, and flexible work schedules in an industry dominated by sweatshops.
Sock brand Bombas did not have to look far for its purpose. Co-founder David Heath was drawn to New York City’s homeless plight. He learned that socks were critical for their comfort and in short supply through area shelters. As a personal gesture, he started handing out socks on his way to work. He began to wonder how he might scale the concept to help more people and create a business simultaneously. The company has now donated tens of millions of socks, improving homeless people’s lives everywhere while creating an unbreakable bond with their customers.
Consumers are increasingly drawn to social causes, particularly younger generations, and they want to do business with brands that share their values. Marketing firm Sprout Social’s research indicates that “seventy percent of consumers say it’s important for brands to take a stand on social and political issues…”
Forbes’ report on a groundbreaking study that included 8,000 consumers and 75 companies across eight global markets found that consumers were four times more likely to trust and purchase from companies that took action on a stated purpose. Even more impressive was the fact that they were six times more likely to protect that brand through challenging circumstances. Trust, purchase, and defend — the hallmarks of an undisruptable bond.
How Can You Leverage or Create a Purpose for Your Brand?
It should be clear how effective purpose-driven marketing is for building indestructible trust relationships with your customers. But before you can pursue these strategies, you need to work out a purpose that suits your brand and audience.
To start, build comprehensive buyer personas for each of your unique customer types, working to understand what is important to them, where their pain points lie, and their core values. Then ask yourself, what can I do to change the world? Does that purpose align with my company’s values and those of my target personas? How can I leverage my chosen cause to inspire customers? Will my purpose engender great trust in my brand?
Next, refine your purpose with an action plan. Be sure to get feedback along the way, as you would with a new product launch. Make sure that your proposals are working in lockstep with customers’ desires and expectations.
Brand Purpose is Your Foundation for Future Growth
The cynic will tell you that a company’s only purpose is to make money. This is the mentality that purpose-driven marketing seeks to disrupt. It allows a company to rise above purely capitalist concerns and choose a higher purpose, one that creates an indelible bond with consumers and, ironically, leads to higher profitability.
Larry Fink, the founder and CEO of BlackRock, one of the world’s largest asset management companies with holdings valued at over $6 trillion, defined his company’s stance on purpose: “Purpose is not a mere tagline or marketing campaign; it is a company’s fundamental reason for being – what it does every day to create value for its stakeholders. Purpose is not the sole pursuit of profits but the animating force for achieving them.”
Brands that demonstrate empathy will win. Those that refuse will find themselves ignored. Brand purpose is not only here to stay — it is becoming essential to be seen and heard at a time when consumers need it the most.
Mark Burgess is co-founder and president of Blue Focus Marketing®. He is author of The New Marketing: How to Win in the Digital Age and the revolutionary bestseller, The Social Employee. Mark is a TEDx speaker and adjunct marketing professor at Rutgers Business School, teaching MBA and executive ed courses. Follow him on Twitter.